FEBRUARY
2004

 

 

By
B. Rosie Lerner
 
Purdue Extension
Consumer
Horticulturist

 

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02-05-04

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You Say Hedge-Apple, I say Osage Orange!


No matter what you call it, there's no question that the tree known botanically as Maclura pomifera is a unique curiosity. Depending on where you're from, this tree has such names as hedge-apple, osage orange, bodark, bowwood and bois d'arc!

Originally, this plant hailed from the southwestern United States, but was so widely planted throughout the Midwest as a hedgerow, that it is now considered to be "naturalized" throughout much of the eastern United States and beyond.

The hedge-apple's reputation for tolerating just about any environmental stress you throw its way is likely the reason it was so popular on farmsteads as a hedge plant. It's easy to transplant, fast-growing and adapts to a wide range of soils. Armed with wicked thorns, it's an ideal hedge plant from a security standpoint!

Hedge-apple will easily grow to 12 feet tall within 5 years, eventually reaching 20 to 40 feet. Its tendency to branch very low on the plant enables the plant to form an impermeable thicket all on its own, making a great livestock barrier. 

The wood of this species is naturally rot-resistant and has been used for archery bows, furniture, decks and fence posts. Hedge-apples can be grown in place and then simply cut down to size, no driving needed! The resistance to decay is thought to be due to the presence of 2,3,4,5-tetrahydroxystilbene, a substance that is toxic to fungi. 

The "apple" in hedge-apple comes from the huge, 4-6 inch diameter fruit ball, which is actually made up of many fruits that have coalesced into one unit. The fruit ball turns from yellow-green to bright yellow in autumn and has been described as lethal if you are unfortunate enough to be underneath one when it falls from the tree!

Today, most consider the plant to be a weedy, pest plant, like its "cousin," the mulberry. The fruits can be an awful mess with their thick, tough rind and lots of sticky, white sap. The fruits are numerous on female plants and disposal is a nuisance.  They are far too large to mow over!

Rumors abound regarding the insect- and spider-repelling properties of these fruits. Despite many testimonials, there is no current research data that confirms or explains its effectiveness. Some people can develop dermatitis if the milky sap contacts their skin.

There are male (fruitless) types that have fewer thorns, but they are relatively difficult to find in the trade.  Some male, nearly thornless cultivars to look for include 'Whiteshield' and 'Witchita.'

 

Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Olivia Maddox